In a significant development announced on February 29, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) has granted Bradford Council the Exceptional Financial Support it urgently sought. The financial aid, totalling £80 million for 2023-24 and £140 million for 2024-25, provides a crucial lifeline for the Council, enabling the presentation of balanced budgets for the next two fiscal years.

The financial challenges faced by the Council, arising from inflationary pressures and substantial increases in demand for children’s and adult social care, prompted the plea for assistance. The Exceptional Financial Support, accompanied by a non-statutory Best Value Notice from DLUHC, recognizes the Council’s efforts to address and manage its financial difficulties and its collaboration with the Government in finding viable solutions.

The issuance of the notice comes on the heels of an independent review conducted by CIPFA in August 2023. While acknowledging the Council’s financial leadership and approach, the review put forth several recommendations, many of which are actively being addressed by the Council.

Already, there have been notable strides in financial governance, with the Chief Executive, assuming the role in October 2023, establishing an emergency budget response team. This team is tasked with identifying savings, enhancing spending oversight, and fortifying the ongoing transformation programme. The Council has also forged a closer partnership with the Children’s Trust, collectively striving to enhance services while curbing costs.

Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, The Leader of Bradford Council, said; “I welcome this news. It gives the Council the stability our district needs and means we will be able to present a balanced budget this year and next. However, this is not free money, it has to be paid back. And like all councils, we still face extremely challenging financial headwinds over the next few years, primarily due to rising demand in social care. The difficult decisions have not gone away. This news does mean, however, that we will be able to put in place our five year plan to make the council financially sustainable. This plan needs to be delivered quickly and, as set out in the recent budget reports, includes tackling the structural budget gap, refreshing the Council’s culture and investing in the corporate services needed to deliver change.

“The Council has been working extremely hard to tackle the difficult financial challenges we face. It’s good that the CIPFA review, carried out last summer, has now been published by Government. We welcome external challenge to help us keep on track. The Bradford Children’s and Families Trust is making good progress under the leadership of the Trust Board and Charlotte Ramsden, the Chief Executive.

“A condition of the Exceptional Financial Support is that we will be setting up an Improvement Board. The Council’s Chief Executive Lorraine O’Donnell is already working closely with the Government to deliver the recommendations we all want to see so that the Council can move on to a secure financial footing.”

Eileen Milner, Chair of Bradford Children and Families Trust, said; “This is positive news for both the Council and the Trust, although we acknowledge that there are many challenges ahead. The Trust is a new organisation, but we have a clear plan in place to continue to make improvements in the services we provide for children and families in Bradford and, as we do so, to continue to drive down costs. The work of the last eleven months is already demonstrating good progress.

“We are committed to continuing to work in partnership with colleagues in the Council and with partners in both the DfE and DLUHC. Collectively we all acknowledge our duty to deliver safe, effective and efficient social care services for the children and young people of Bradford and District.”